Prior to modern synthetic analgesics and narcotics, what was used for relief of severe pain?

2023 © Wikiask
Main topic: Health
Short answer:
  • In ancient societies, the treatment of pain via magic and ritual was highly widespread.
  • In the 16th century, pain alleviation was achieved by blowing fire particles.
  • In the early 1800s, morphine was sold as a treatment for pain, and later on, pain drugs were created from opium.

Pain relief.jpg In several ancient societies, it was considered that human stupidity deserved to be punished with pain and illness. They performed rituals such as making votive offerings and using scapegoats, in attempts to pacify the furious gods. It was thought that the noise made by rattles, gongs, and other instruments might drive painful demons out of a person's body in various societies. Traditional Amerindian physicians "pulled" sickness and suffering of patients by sucking on pain pipes while pressing them against their skin.

Common pain relief methods and medication in ancient times[edit]

Electric eels

Although the idea that electric eels were used to treat pain seems archaic and perhaps risky, a procedure very similar to it is utilized to treat pain today. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and it is a common therapy for the aches and pains associated with arthritis and lower back discomfort.[1]


During the medieval period, pain treatment was mostly achieved by the liberal use of a broad range of medicinal plants. In the Middle Ages, there was a strong emphasis on polypharmacy, with the belief that more medicines were better.[2]

Fire particles

René Descartes, a French philosopher, provided an illustration in 1664 that demonstrated how particles of fire that come into touch with the foot move to the brain. He also linked the experience of pain to the sound of a bell ringing.[3]


Theriac was thought to be an exceptionally useful drug. In most cases, it was made using a honey-based liquid that included around 64 distinct chemicals. Theriac was a particularly well-liked mixture during that time period.[4]

Herbs and medicinal plants

Some of the botanicals include opiates, the patient had experienced something similar to a trance. This may have had a significant impact on the sufferer's level of pain in ancient times.[5]


In the mediaeval pharmacopeia, minerals played an important role in pain relief. Some of the most sought-after components were shards of precious metals and woods, such as gold and ivory, as well as alleged fragments of unicorn horn from a period when people thought that supernatural animals roamed the wild. In order to treat arthritis, some medical professionals injected patients with gold salts.[6]

Magnets and electricity

As magnets and electricity were more readily accessible in the late 1800s and early 1900s, charlatans in the medical field were ready to capitalize on the fascinating and enigmatic energies they supposedly possessed for their stated therapeutic benefits.[7][8]


Percodan, which is a combination of oxycodone and aspirin, the relative ease with which this potent opioid medication could be obtained, along with the contention that a narcotic prescribed by a physician could not lead to addiction, all of these factors combined to exacerbate an ongoing opioid abuse problem that has ebbed and flowed for millennia. The opioid abuse problem has been exacerbated by the availability of Percodan, which is a combination of oxycodon.[9]

Other methods

The other commercial treatments included opiates, alcohol, or cocaine in varied doses undoubtedly contributed to their capacity to alleviate pain for a limited amount of time. Because it formerly included cocaine, Coca-Cola was once marketed to consumers as a wonder drug that could treat any ailment.[10]


  1. "The new electric eel pain killer". UPI. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  2. Norn, Svend; Kruse, Poul R.; Kruse, Edith (2005). "[History of opium poppy and morphine]". Dansk Medicinhistorisk Arbog. 33: 171–184. ISSN 0084-9588. PMID 17152761.
  3. Deng, Hongyong; Shen, Xueyong (2013). "The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research". Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2013: 379291. doi:10.1155/2013/379291. ISSN 1741-427X. PMC 3789413. PMID 24159344.
  4. "Theriac: the Ancient World's Miracle Drug | Classical Wisdom Weekly". Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  5. Petrovska, Biljana Bauer (2012). "Historical review of medicinal plants' usage". Pharmacognosy Reviews. 6 (11): 1–5. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.95849. ISSN 0973-7847. PMC 3358962. PMID 22654398.
  6. "Natural Pain Management Strategies". Ancient Minerals. 2021-02-18. Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  7. "The origins of magnetic therapy". Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  8. Pittler, Max H.; Brown, Elizabeth M.; Ernst, Edzard (2007-09-25). "Static magnets for reducing pain: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials". CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal. 177 (7): 736–742. doi:10.1503/cmaj.061344. ISSN 0820-3946. PMC 1976658. PMID 17893349.
  9. "Percodan Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing - WebMD". Retrieved 2022-10-09.
  10. Long, Tony. "May 8, 1886: Looking for Pain Relief, and Finding Coca-Cola Instead". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2022-10-09.